Derby fever rises a couple of degrees Saturday when Churchill Downs kicks off its “Road To The Kentucky Derby” championship series consisting of 16 races beginning with the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park and culminating with the Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland on April 19.
The points in the championship series are considerably higher than in the previous prep races as the winners in the first eight races of the series will receive 50 points. The next seven races in the series, beginning with the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park on March 29, will be worth 100 points to the winner while the final race in the series, the Lexington Stakes (G3), will be worth 10 points.
Let’s take a look at the 71st running of the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes. Post time for the race is 5:33 PM Eastern Standard Time.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has two entered: We Miss Artie (8-1), ranked ninth on the 2014 Kentucky Derby Leaderboard and Commissioner, who has yet to crack the leaderboard, but with two wins already at 9-furlongs, he will go to the starting gate as the morning-line 3-1 favorite.
Commissioner comes into the Fountain of Youth with a 2-1-0 record in three starts, all at route distances, and I look for him to be competitive.
Top Billing, trained by Shug McGaughey, is also stepping up in class and he comes into the Fountain of Youth as the morning line 7-2 second choice. Of all the horses entered in this race, Top Billing is the one I’m most interested in as I ranked him fifth in my 2014 Kentucky Derby Outlook.
When I wrote my Derby Outlook, Top Billing had only run in one sprint race. One never knows how these young colts will fare on the Derby Trail, but Top Billing has the breeding to be competitive. Here’s an excerpt from my Derby Outlook with the chart call and video replay:
TOP BILLING, steadied when shuffled back soon after the break, was well back early, circled the turn three deep, was put to a drive in upper stretch, remained in the three path, split horses inside the eighth pole then eagerly pulled away.
Curlin, the damsire of Top Billing, is a sire-line descendant of the Mr. Prospector Ancestral Herd and he’s bred on a nick with Deputy Minister who’s an influential descendant of the Northern Dancer Ancestral Herd. (See note, below, about Deputy Minister in analysis of Strong Mandate.)
Curlin was a Classic Champion Thoroughbred who, for many years, was the all-time leading money earner but is now ranked second with $10,501,800 in earnings. Curlin won the 2007 Preakness Stakes (G1), finished second in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and he was third in the Kentucky Derby (G1). In addition, Curlin won the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), twice, Dubai World Cup (G1), Stephen Foster Handicap (G1), Woodward Stakes (G1), and the UAE Jaguar Trophy Handicap.
In his first crop at stud, Curlin got Palace Malice who won the 2013 Belmont Stakes (G1). Like Curlin, Palace Malice is also bred on a nick with the Northern Dancer Ancestral Herd.
Parade Queen, the dam of Top Billing, was a multiple graded-stakes winner who compiled a 6-4-2 record in 16 starts with $419,357 in earnings. The tail-female line of Top Billing descends from the foundation mare Tregonwells Natural Barb Mare (Family 1). His immediate family descends from Chelandry (Family 1-n) and that is the same family that produced the 1984 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner, Swale. Popingoal, the sixth dam of Swale, is also the ninth dam of Top Billing. In addition, Top Billing’s tail-female line is reinforced by the Classic Champion Thoroughbreds A.P. Indy, Roberto and Nijinsky.
Top Billing’s star potential was originally brought to my attention in a tweet by fellow blogger J.J. Hysell who also writes about the young horses on the Derby Trail and you can follow her “In The Money” blog at this link. Here’s her tweet:
@trifectabox 11 Dec
: Honor Code is all the rage, but Shug's other colt, Top Billing, is likely a
better Kentucky Derby prospect.
I definitely agree J.J. and I’m looking forward to see how Top Billing fares in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2).
General A Rod (5-1), trained by Michael Maker, also looks like he could be competitive in this race. He comes into the Fountain of Youth with 2-1-0 record in three starts including a win in the Gulfstream Park Derby on January1.
His time of 1:35.84 in the Gulstream Park Derby is what I like to see in a young colt on the Derby Trail and he has the breeding to stretch out to 9-furlongs. Another move forward could make General A Rod competitive in this race.
We Miss Artie, Pletcher’s other entry, could round out the exotics.
Under the points system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine which horses will qualify to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the winner of the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) will receive 50 points, the second-place finisher will receive 20 points, the third-place finisher will receive 10 points and the fourth-place finisher will receive five points. Here’s a look at the current top 20 Derby qualifiers:
2014 KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. Tapiture, 22, Steve Asmussen, $300,738
2. Havana, 14, Todd Pletcher, $660,000
3. Cairo Prince, 14, Kiaran McGlaughlin, $470,000
4. Honor Code, 14, Shug McGaughey, $340,000
5. Tamarando, 12, Jerry Hollendorfer, $490,000
6. Midnight Hawk, 12, Bob Baffert, $84,000
7. Bond Holder, 11, Doug O’Neill, $333,000
8. Rise Up, 10, Tom Amoss, $782,633
9. We Miss Artie, 10, Todd Pletcher, $242,000
10. Candy Boy, 10, John Sadler, $260,000
11. Samraat, 10, Rick Violette, Jr., $150,000
12. Noble Moon, 10, Leah Gyarmati, $145,000
13. Ami’s Holiday, 10, Josie Carrroll, $136,145
14. Vicar’s in Trouble, 10, Mike Maker, $120,000
15. Cleburne, 10, Dale Romans, $102,044
16. Tanzanite Cat, 10, Code Autrey, $90,000
17. Strong Mandate, 6, D. Wayne Lukas, $442,500
18. Casigaupo, 5, Mario Morales, $271,050
19. Classic Giacnroll, 5, Lisa Guerrero, $62,500
20. Ride On Curlin, 5, Billy Gowan, $94,387